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After Trump order, WVU warns international students to stay in US

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
President Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull in the Oval Office of the White House, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 in Washington.

In light of President Donald Trump’s executive order banning people from several countries from entering the U.S., West Virginia University told students and faculty members from those countries to cancel any plans to leave the country.

WVU emailed the statement Saturday afternoon, before a federal judge issued an emergency order blocking parts of Trump’s ban Saturday night.

“We’re advising all the international student and scholar population that it is more important than ever that they carry documentation verifying their legal status in the United States and strictly abide by the rules and regulations governing their immigration status,” William Brustein, the school’s vice president for global strategies and international affairs, said in the statement.

Trump’s ban affects people from seven countries — Yemen, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Sudan and Somalia. People from those countries will be barred from entering the United States for 90 days. Trump also suspended admission of all refugees for at least 120 days and from Syria indefinitely.

The ban stands to affect 127 students at WVU, according to a university spokesman. WVU has four students from Yemen, 13 from Syria, 27 from Libya, 13 from Iraq, 69 from Iran and one from Sudan. No Somalian students attend the school.

Brustein said the school has sent alerts to all of those students but none had called his office as of Saturday afternoon.

“The alerts call for those currently present in the United States to cancel immediately any planned travel outside of the country until further notice, as they might not be allowed back in even if they are in possession of a valid visa,” Brustein said. “We also recommend that people from such countries who are currently outside the United States, but are in possession of a valid visa or valid travel document immediately return to the United States.”

WVU is a part of the Institute of International Education’s Syrian Refugee Program and has privately financed students from the Middle East who need financial aid.

Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert said in an emailed statement his school is checking to see how many students it has from the seven countries, and the school will “do everything possible within the law to assist and retain all our international students.”

Although Gilbert couldn’t say how many students Marshall has from the seven countries, he said the school has more than 550 international students from 56 different countries.

“These students are valued and welcomed members of the Marshall family,” Gilbert said. “Their presence adds immeasurable value to our campus by bringing the richness of their cultures and experiences to Marshall and Huntington.”

Mouhammed Sakkal is a first-year student at Marshall’s medical school. Though he was born and raised in West Virginia, many of his family members are Syrians who have come to the United States as refugees.

“It’s frightening, it’s scary and it’s reminiscent of a darker time in our history and of Nazi Germany,” Sakkal, 23, said. “It’s been difficult, and Syrians have suffered a lot already. This, relatively speaking, isn’t that big of a deal relative to what they’ve experienced for the past six years. They’ve lost their lives, their families, been torn apart. This ban just feels like a slap in the face now.”

Sakkal called his mother Saturday morning to make sure she didn’t have any plans to travel soon. They have family members in California and Texas, and Sakkal worried they would be detained if they tried to board a plane. His parents came from Aleppo, Syria, about 30 years ago, and three of his aunts came to the United States more recently as refugees.

Nora Barre is not a college student, but she is affected by the ban. Barre, a former West Virginia resident who has family in Syria, called the ban “devastating” and “un-American.” Barre, who was raised in the Hurricane and Charleston areas but lives in New Hampshire now, said the ban will affect her 85-year-old grandmother’s plans to visit her. Her grandmother fled Syria and lives now in Spain.

“She’s just devastated,” Barre said. “She can’t believe it. She always believed that the U.S. was welcoming and kind ... it’s so sad what’s happening. It’s really devastating.”

Barre had been raising money to bring 14 of her family members from Aleppo to the United States. Instead, the family has been admitted to Canada, she said. She’s worried now her family members won’t be able to visit her.

Barre has dual citizenship in Syria and the United States, but she’s still concerned about what might happen if she leaves the United States. She has plans soon to travel to Jordan, where she works for an organization that helps Syrian refugees.

“We’re going to Canada next week, and I’m a little afraid of leaving [the U.S.],” she said.

Staff writer Lori Kersey contributed to this report.

Reach Jake Jarvis at 304-348-7939,, or follow @NewsroomJake on Twitter.

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